Acute Sinusitis

Overview

What is acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis is a short-term inflammation of the sinuses, most often including a sinus infection. (Sinusitis is also known as rhinosinusitis because the swelling almost always includes nasal tissue as well as sinus tissue.) The sinuses are four paired cavities (spaces) in the head. They are connected by narrow channels. The sinuses make thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose, cleaning the nose. Typically filled with air, the sinuses can become blocked by fluid and swell from irritation. When this happens, they can become infected.

How long does acute sinusitis last?

Acute sinusitis lasts less than a month. Your symptoms may go away by themselves within about 10 days, but it may take up to three or four weeks.

What are risk factors for acute sinusitis?

Some people are more likely than others to get acute sinusitis. These include:

  • People who have allergies.
  • People who have structural problems with their noses (like a deviated septum) or polyps, which are growths that can hang inside noses or sinus cavities.
  • People who spend a great deal of time in places where infections happen, like preschools or day cares.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes acute sinusitis?

Acute sinusitis is often caused by a common cold or allergies. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection or fungus that causes the sinuses to swell and become blocked.

What are the symptoms of acute sinusitis?

The main symptoms include:

  • Facial pain/pressure/tenderness.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Thick yellow or green nasal discharge.
  • Loss of smell and taste.
  • Congestion/cough.
  • Bad breath.

You may also experience:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is acute sinusitis diagnosed?

Acute sinusitis is usually diagnosed by discussing all of your symptoms and medical history with your doctor. In a physical exam, your doctor will look at the ears, nose, and throat to check for any blockage, swelling, and drainage. If allergies are suspected, your doctor will can have an allergy test performed to determine what allergens might be the cause of your sinusitis.

Management and Treatment

How is acute sinusitis treated?

Acute sinusitis is typically a short-term condition that is not too severe. For many people, little or no treatment is needed. Most people get better on their own after seven to 10 days.

Antibiotics are only helpful for bacterial infections. Most sinusitis is due to viruses or other causes that are not cured by antibiotics.

Other treatment options include ways to manage your symptoms. You can:

  • Try nasal sprays (like nasal steroids) and decongestants. You should not use over-the-counter medicated nose sprays longer than three days unless your healthcare provider says you should.
  • Get extra rest and drink extra fluids.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if you have significant pain.
  • Irrigate (clean) your nasal passages with saline solution. Since this is just salt and sterile water applied to the nose for cleaning, you can continue longer than five days.

What are complications of acute sinusitis?

There are rarely complications to acute sinusitis. You are likely to recover on your own. However, it is possible in very rare cases that an infection could spread farther into other spaces in your nervous system, like your brain, eyes, or spinal cord.

Prevention

How do I prevent acute sinusitis?

Do not smoke. Smoking is not good for you or for people around you, since this can cause mucous to become clogged in the nose/sinuses. Avoid being around second-hand smoke, as well as other triggers like animal dander, dust, mold and pollen. Take pains to prevent sinus and other infections by:

  • Washing your hands well before and after eating and after using the bathroom.
  • Staying away from sick people.
  • Treating your allergies, possibly with nasal steroid therapy or immunotherapy (primarily known as allergy shots).
  • Keeping your body and your immune system in good shape by eating well (lots of vegetables and fruits) and staying hydrated.
  • Using a humidifier if your house is dry or an air purifier. Make sure to clean your equipment regularly.
  • Irrigating your nose when necessary with a saline rinse.

Living With

When should I call my healthcare provider about sinusitis?

Though many cases of acute sinusitis can improve with little to no treatment, you should call the doctor if you experience any painful symptoms. An antibiotic may be needed for a bacterial infection.

If you find that your sinuses do not feel better after 10 days, symptoms have gotten worse, or you have symptoms that initially improved and then worsen five to six days later (“double sickening”), you should contact your healthcare provider. Symptoms that continue after about four weeks may mean you have subacute or chronic sinusitis. If you develop other types of symptoms, such as severe eye swelling, or you are just not sure what you should do next, call your provider.

If you have facial pain, and you have healthy teeth, you can try things like nasal rinses and warm, wet washcloths on your face to see if you find some relief. If so, and if your symptoms go away in about 10 days, you probably have had acute sinusitis and it has gotten better on its own. If not, and you continue to feel ill after three or four weeks, call your provider.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/04/2020.

References

  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Sinusitis. Accessed 6/5/2020.
  • American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Sinus Infection. Accessed 6/5/2020.
  • Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis (Nasal Allergies). Accessed 6/5/2020.
  • Clinical practice guideline (update): adult sinusitis. Rosenfeld RM, Piccirillo JF, Chandrasekhar SS, Brook I, Ashok Kumar K, Kramper M, Orlandi RR, Palmer JN, Patel ZM, Peters A, Walsh SA, Corrigan MD. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Apr;152(2 Suppl):S1-S39
  • Worrall G. Acute sinusitis. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(5):565–567.
  • Carlton DA, Beahm D, Suh JD, Chiu AG. Acute and Chronic Sinusitis. In: Lalwani AK. Eds. Current Diagnosis & Treatment Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, 4e New York, NY. McGraw-Hill.
  • Cleveland Clinic Disease Management Project. Rhinosinusitis. Accessed 6/5/2020.
  • StatPearls LLC. Sinusitis. Accessed 6/5/2020.

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